Hmm. Hmm. Hmm.
Ancillary Sword is the sequel to the multi-award-winning Ancillary Justice, as the cover of my copy helpfully points out. In it, Breq, the ancillary who was formerly the ship Justice of Toren but who is now newly-made Fleet Captain of her own ship, Mercy of Kalr, is sent to protect the system of Athoek from the upheavals caused by the rift of the multi-bodied ruler of the Radchaai empire Anaander Mianaai. A concatenation of events which boil down to "politics" sees Breq and her small retinue visit a tea grower on the planet of Athoek itself, where Radchaai privilege and the horrors of the expansion of the Radchaai empire are making themselves felt.
Now. I think slavery is an extraordinarily difficult subject to deal with unproblematically, and Ancillary Sword unfortunately falls into the trap of a number of well-meaning narratives told from the point of view of privilege (I'm also thinking of Naomi Novik's Empire of Ivory here). The slavery plot concerns(show spoiler)
Breq rocks up on a planet where (officially-sanctioned) slavery is happening, realises that This Is Bad, dispenses appropriate justice and flies away again having sowed the seeds of something better, in the space of about two weeks. To the novel's credit, there is a certain amount of complexity to the issues at hand: Breq just can't make everything better for everyone immediately, the slave in question is at fault even if she was coerced into the situation, Breq does have to confront the fact that she, among thousands of others, made this situation possible as Justice of Toren. But the slave owners are more or less universally unsympathetic, which tends to make the slavery actually practiced all over the Radch look like it's restricted to a few unpleasant individuals abusing the system (which is clearly not true). It makes solving slavery look easy, the result of one super-powered individual being in the right place at the right time, which is in this cultural climate not helpful.
But. I'm giving this four stars because it does at least aim for complexity, because Breq is not uncomplicatedly "good" or sympathetic in any way, and because the characters are strong enough that I want to keep reading them. I am enjoying the world that Leckie's built - I love how alien it is culturally, despite the fact that it's populated by humans, and I love that the book is driven by politics instead of explosions - and I think the questions she continues to ask about personhood are pertinent and interesting.
I still don't think it's mind-blowing, as a lot of people do, which probably speaks more to the quality of my reading this year than to anything intrinsic to the book; last year, when I was utterly failing at finding anything I really enjoyed, this would almost certainly be at the top of my list. I think Sword is solid, with my reservations about its treatment of slavery taken into account, and I'm looking forward to the third book in the trilogy.